Several teams will head into this week hoping that what’s already been a banner year for girls basketball in the Times readership area continues in the NCHSAA playoffs.
After the association released its brackets Saturday, a number of teams began preparing for the next round. The Beddingfield girls earned the top overall seed in the 2-A East Region and will hope to cap star Daneesha Briggs’ storied career with a deep run, while a strong Fike team is hoping for a much-longer stay this year after a first-round exit last season.
Hunt is hoping to keep riding its momentum of a hot finish in the postseason, while Southern Nash returns to the field for the first time since 2020.
Elsewhere, in 2-A, 16-seed SouthWest Edgecombe will host 17-seed Bartlett Yancey in a battle for a possible second-round trip to Beddingfield, 22-seed North Johnston is set for a trip to 11-seed Fairmont. In 3-A, 19-seed C.B. Aycock will travel to 14-seed Walter M. Williams.
No. 1 Beddingfield vs. No. 32 East Duplin
It’s been a banner year for the Bruins, who romped through a 23-1 regular season and 11-0 mark in the 2-A Neuse 6 Conference, winning the Neuse 6 championships for both the regular season and conference tournament for the second year in a row.
For its efforts, third-year head coach Jody O’Neal’s squad was rewarded with the top seed in the 2-A East Region, and a possibility to play four home games ahead of the regional final should Beddingfield continue to win and advance.
“It’s exciting for the girls,” O’Neal said. “As the season went on and you start seeing the rankings, once we realized we had clinched the conference, we were hoping for a top-four seed just to get a home game and if you advance, play at home again.”
The driver of Bedidngfield’s success this season has been no secret: senior guard Daneesha Briggs is having an incredible season, and currently sits 10th in the state in all associations with 26.6 points per game.
She also leads the state with 107 3-pointers, and has shown her ability to take over a game time and again.
“No doubt, and it’s been that way since she’s been at Beddingfield,” O’Neal said. “People key on her, and the girls have done a good job getting her open. We’ve seen different defenses and people trying to stop her, and she’s taken it upon herself to do what she can this year to lead our team.”
The Bruins have also had several other contributors prove capable of stepping up, including point guard Pinky Marshall, who averages 9.6 points and leads the team with five assists per game, along with TJ Harris and KJ Hill, both of whom have proven capable of hitting timely shots.
In round one, Beddingfield will be opposed by 32nd-seeded East Duplin, which comes into the playoffs at 11-13 with a fifth-place finish in the East Central Conference.
The Panthers are led by Sallie Hatcher’s 10.6 points per game.
“They have some good guard play,” O’Neal said. “They’ve got a girl that can really shoot. They’ve got some girls inside that are rough and tough and present some challenges for us.”
No. 6 Fike vs. No. 27 Croatan
Last year, a young Fike team on the rise got its first taste of playoff action with a first-round home loss to Triton.
This year, it’s different. A battle-tested Golden Demons team, fresh off a 21-5 regular season and 3-A Quad County Conference regular season champion, enters the playoffs with experience and higher expectations.
“We have a boost of confidence heading into the playoffs this year,” said Fike head coach Marcus Johnson. The vibe is a little bit different from last year because we did get some experience last year.”
After last season’s finish, Fike’s team, with almost everyone back from last season, knows more about what to expect from the playoffs this time around. In addition, the Demons played plenty of tough regular-season matchups, including three apiece with Beddingfield and Quad County Tournament champion Southern Wayne.
“I think it’s a big help having that experience and being there,” Johnson said. “The games that we’ve had this year, we’ve won some, we’ve lost some, we’ve played some close ones and been able to finish. So carrying that type of momentum into the playoffs is really important.”
The biggest driver of Fike’s success this season has been the addition of sophomore point guard Jamaria Freeman, who transferred in from Wilson Prep. Freeman has done everything for the Golden Demons, leading them in points, (19.8), assists (3.7), steals (6.3) and is second in rebounding.
She’s been a key force at the top of Fike’s signature press defense, and has five triple-doubles this season. Freeman can also provide some key playoff experience after playing in the 1-A final four with the Tigers last season.
“She played with a really seasoned team and they did compete and go far,” Johnson said. “And I think just the way she’s been playing has been able to help us a lot. Getting into the playoffs is a blessing, and I think we’ll have a real chance.”
Of course, it’s not just Freeman getting it done for the Golden Demons, as sophomore point guard Jewel Brewington (12.8 points per game) has helped her form a lethal back-court duo, and sharp-shooting guard Connie Pleasants, senior forward Avery Lentz and others such as Mesha Strickland form a deep, formidable group.
The Demons will start things off against Croatan, the third-place team in the Coastal Conference at 11-13.
Ginger Hayden leads the Cougars with 8.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
“I’ve gotten the chance to look at them a couple times and scout them,” Johnson said. “Some of the challenges are us being able to play our brand of basketball and play at our pace, most importantly, and us initiating the game and starting fast.”
No. 21 Hunt and No. 12 Western Alamance
In December, with the Warriors mired in an 0-7 start, the playoffs might have felt like a far-fetched idea for Hunt.
But head coach Lorraine Creech’s squad rebounded, won 11 of its last 17 games to finish 11-13, finished fourth in the Quad County Conference and earned a second straight trip to the big dance.
“I think they worked hard and I feel good about it,” Creech said. “We started out kind of shaky, and then they realized they could play and they just picked it up. Being patient and working together as a team has helped us so far.”
Hunt has been led by forward Kayla Haley’s team-leading 16.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game, along with point guard Ti’Asia Taylor’s 12.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 4.1 steals per game.
Add in other contributors such as Kennedi Smith, Callie Ray and Gracelynn Wolzen and this is a strong group, one that garnered key playoff experience last year in a first-round loss to E.E. Smith (this year’s No. 1 seed).
“That’s going to help a lot, because they know what it felt like last year, and I think they want to go further than they went last year,” Creech said.
Also aiding Hunt’s cause will be all of the tough teams it’s played this year that served to battle test the Warriors: two games against second-seeded Rocky Mount, two against Beddingfield, two against 4-A D.H. Conley and three each against Fike and Southern Wayne.
“That’s going to help us tremendously,” Creech said. “They’ve been there before and now they know what it’s like.”
The Warriors will head to Elon to take on Western Alamance, the third-place team in the Central Conference at 19-8.
Allie Sykes is Western’s top scorer with 14.9 points per game, and Tina Bowers averages a near double-double with 14.3 points and 8.6 rebounds.
“They’re disciplined, they play (man-to-man defense) and they play hard, so that’s something we’ve got to work on,” Creech said.
No. 25 Southern Nash at No. 8 Scotland County
The Ladybirds went 12-10 this season and finished third in the 2-A/3-A Big East Conference, and were rewarded for their efforts with a return to the playoffs after a two-year hiatus.
“It’s been a good year,” said Southern Nash head coach Jordan Bass. “Going into the season, I had high expectations. I knew that we had a chance to finish second or third in our conference. Not many people know this, but out of the nine girls that we took to camp this summer, we only have four of those girls left. Several girls, for different reasons, aren’t on the team anymore. So, with all that adversity, I’m just really proud of what our girls have done fighting through that and still having a successful season.”
Senior point guard Jermia Walker leads the Ladybirds with 19.4 points per game this season to go with 7.9 rebounds, four assists and 5.1 steals per game.
Darielle Whitley averages 8.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
The Ladybirds should certainly enter the season battle tested after playing Hunt and Beddingfield in the Farris & Thomas Holiday Tournament, as well as going against the likes of Rocky Mount and Franklinton in Big East play.
“We have faced a lot of really solid teams and really good teams, so that’s definitely going to help us when we face off against Scotland,” Bass said. “Some of these other conferences aren’t as strong as ours, especially not as top heavy as ours. So that will definitely help us in the long run.”
Eighth-seeded Scotland County, the Ladybirds’ first-round opponent, is 18-8 and the champion of the 3-A/4-A Sandhills Conference.
The Fighting Scots are led by a pair of stat stuffers in Morgan Thompson (18.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 3.9 steals per game) and Alicia McClain (15.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 3.2 steals, 5.8 blocks).
“They have two really good players, both of them are sophomores,” Bass said. “They like to shoot 3s. They’re more of a perimeter-oriented team. … It’s going to be a challenge, but I do believe it’s a winnable game.”